ROADS REPORT

Article December 28, 2000
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Million mile milestone

It’s a job, but 60-year-old Gerald Taylor of Hendersonville, N.C., loves to drive his semi-truck. Five years ago, he thought his driving days were over forever when emphysema started taking its toll. But following a successful lung transplant, Taylor will soon celebrate his one-millionth mile. He is probably the first organ recipient to complete such a milestone.

"For a long time I hauled a lot of toxic chemicals. The doctors said that the exposure to those toxic chemicals, in combination with the emphysema, damaged my lungs and that I would need a transplant. They also told me I would never drive a semi-truck again," said Taylor.

On Super Bowl Sunday 1994, Taylor received a new lung at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His transplant was so successful he was back at work within months, proving the doctors wrong. On the bumper of his truck is a sign that says: "The driver of this truck is a lung transplant recipient." Needless to say, he gets a lot of thumbs up and waves from passers-by.

Hard work and loyalty pay off . . . big

When a company is purchased, sometimes the future of its employees is uncertain. This was not the case in Belleville, Mich., where the sale of Thompson-McCully Co. made many employees millionaires.

When Bob Thompson sold his roadbuilding firm for $422 million, he let all of his employees know in a letter. He told them first the good news: They wouldn’t lose their jobs. Next the great news: They would share in the proceeds.

He divided up $128 million among his 550 employees. For over 80 of the workers he gave them an unbelievable bonus—they became millionaires.

Thompson started his business in his basement with $3,500, and was supported by his schoolteacher wife. They owned the same modest house for 37 years, and expanded his asphalt company into a roadbuilding juggernaut. After 40 years in the business he sells it, collects a nine-figure check and shares it with the secretaries and salesmen, the people in the gravel pits and the ones who hold the road signs.

Hourly workers, most of whom have pensions or 401K plans, received $2,000 for each year of service. Salaried employees, who don’t have pensions, were given checks or annuity certificates they can cash in at age 55 or 62. Those range from $1 million to $2 million apiece. He also paid the taxes, which amounted to $25 million.

Braking for naked ghosts

It’s dark . . . you’re driving down the road when all of the sudden you are startled to see what appears to be a naked person throwing itself in front of your car. Such was the case in the Iraqi city of Haditha, which is 135 miles northeast of Baghdad. The state-run Alwan Weekly reported that drivers passing through Horan Valley were stating that ghosts appeared next to the bridge, naked and doing some acrobatic moves.

Tales of ghosts in the Horan Valley are common, but these ghosts were said to be throwing themselves in front of cars, causing the drivers to panic. The "ghosts" appeared to be so lifelike that one motorist thought he’d hit a person and reported the accident to the police. The newspaper reported the police searched the area for a body, but found nothing. According to Alwan, most drivers don’t brake for ghosts just in case they are really a ploy by thieves to rob cars.

Building quieter roads

Engineers at Purdue University have formed the first center in the nation dedicated to understanding the precise physics behind highway noise. The numerous buffers installed between freeways and residential neighborhoods attest to the problem, said Bob Bernhard, director of the new Institute of Safe, Quiet and Durable Highways.

"Residents rarely complain about being able to see a highway, but they often complain about highway noise," said Bernhard, noting that barriers built to wall out the road racket can cost as much as $1 million per mile.

Bernhard said most of the acoustical pollution from cars doesn’t come from engine noise but from the interface of tires and road surfaces.

Purdue engineers propose to attack the problem by studying both tires and road surfaces. The results will then be used to design tires and road surfaces that make less noise. Research will include the use of lasers and sound waves to analyze noise-producing mechanisms in rotating tires. Engineers will study porous pavements that have been used in Europe to build quieter roads.

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